International media lawyer Paul Tweed joins Sean to talk about how he built up one of the most lucrative defamation law practices in the world. From cream buns to Hollywood, Paul has represented the likes of Liam Neeson, Johnny Depp and Britney Spears. He also tells Sean how he sought to challenge the power of the social media and online giants.

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Meet Paul Tweed…

Paul Tweed is a media lawyer described as “the most powerful man in Hollywood.” He’s represented A-list celebrities like Justin Timberlake, Harrison Ford, Britney Spears, Liam Neeson and countless others — all while being based in Belfast.

In today’s episode we talk about:

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Huge payouts in US defamation cases could spark a shift in London's reputation as libel capital of the world

BY ROBERT JACKMAN

Writer E. Jean Carroll won damages for defamation against former US president Donald Trump / Image: Getty

When it comes to reputation management, London has long been considered the world’s libel capital. But could the days of UK defamation law’s attractiveness be coming to an end?

In recent months, a spate of large defamation awards in the United States – some running into nine figures – have hit the headlines. Now some legal experts are predicting that the US may even become the destination of choice for libel claimants.

‘If I were 30 years younger, I think I’d be looking at setting up an office in the US,’ says media lawyer Paul Tweed, a defamation specialist who has represented a number of Hollywood celebrities on both sides of the Atlantic over three decades.

He tells Spear’s that he is increasingly hearing from HNW and high-profile clients looking to the States to protect their reputation.

Will this trend spark a new generation of so-called ‘libel tourism’, as HNW clients look to US courts to defend their reputation?

Libel damages: the sky’s the limit

US libel laws have been back in the headlines for one simple reason: money.

A spate of headline-topping cases have seen defendants awarded sums that dwarf those typically seen in London.

Earlier this month, a New York court awarded the author E. Jean Carroll $5 million in damages after it found former president Donald Trump guilty of sexually assaulting and defaming her.

Around $2 million of the damages was for the assault, which took place in a Manhattan department store changing area in 1996, while around $3 million was assigned for Trump’s defamation of his victim, when he called her a liar.

Before that, Johnny Depp received $15 million (including $5 million in punitive damages) in 2022 when a Virginia jury held that his ex-wife Amber Heard had defamed him in a 2018 op-ed for the Washington Post.

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Paul Tweed used Microsoft as an example of a company that should be liable for the spread of misleading information through AI

Defamation lawyer Paul Tweed said companies like Microsoft should be on the hook for the spread of generative AI “disinformation”.

Mr Tweed, the founder of W P Tweed & Co and an expert in the field of media law and reputation management, said that he has heard concerns from organisations, including news publishers, that AI chatbots are taking up the role of “news aggregator” but a lot of what is being churned out is misleading information.

“Key players out there, either for commercial or political reasons, who have been feeding disinformation, are now utilising these AI chatbots,” he said.

However, Mr Tweed said that Irish law isn’t geared to deal with the problems emerging from the growing use of AI. “The million dollar question is who’s accountable,” said Mr Tweed.

“Who do we take action against? Do we sue a robot?” he continued.

Mr Tweed used Microsoft as an example of a company that should be liable for the spread of misleading information through AI. Microsoft has invested heavily in OpenAI, a company that created the leading AI chatbot ChatGPT.

Big tech take advantage of tax tourism by coming to Ireland. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for the Irish economy. But why should they be treated any different from the owners of the Irish Examiner,” said Mr Tweed. They’re the publishers. They’re the owners.

Mr Tweed said introducing such laws that would impact big tech firms is “not going to scare them off”. "They must be subject to the law like everyone else”.

Meanwhile, last week Reuters reported that MEPs came a step closer to passing new rules regulating artificial intelligence tools such as ChatGPT, following a crunch vote on Thursday where they agreed on tougher draft legislation.

The European Union's highly anticipated AI Act looks set to be the world's first comprehensive legislation governing the technology, with new rules around the use of facial recognition, biometric surveillance, and other AI applications.

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One of the world's most notable libel lawyers Paul Tweed has raised concerns over the rise of artificial intelligence (Photo: PressEye)

He says people are being defamed and reveals an ‘alarming’ number of calls

The use of AI chatbots is resulting in people being seriously defamed, according to top libel and privacy lawyer Paul Tweed.

Mr Tweed – who is regularly referred to as one of the world’s most powerful legal figures, having represented and advised everyone from Prince Andrew to Britney Spears — said he has personally received an “alarming amount of calls” in relation to artificial intelligence within the past few months.

The Bangor-born lawyer, in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, said the concerns are “in relation to misinformation and other related issues” from AI.

The most common staple being information generated from ChatGPT and the Google–owned Bard platform, he said.

Created by the learning machine company OpenAI, ChatGPT can generate almost any form of information simply by “asking” a prompt question or statement.

“We’re keeping a very close eye on the situation, not only because the ordinary man on the street is not going to have the funds to run a test case against OpenAI or any of the chatbots. It will have to be someone with the means to take them on if they are defamed,” said Mr Tweed.

“They’re like a news aggregator on speed, (AI platforms) are using any information they can get, you put in a name and details, and then all of sudden it all comes up like a factual article or statement like something you would expect to see on the likes of Wikipedia.

“News articles and websites are being cited that simply don’t exist, and it’s very concerning because international banks for example would use someone’s media presence to sanction them.”

A recent example of AI inaccuracy was the case involving law professor Jonathan Turley, who was falsely accused of sexual harassment by ChatGPT after his name appeared in its search engine after being asked to list “five examples” of sexual harassment related to professors in American law schools.

The prompt asked the bot to attribute any results to established newspapers. However, Mr Turley’s name appeared in the generated response citing a post from the Washington Post which did not exist.

Mr Tweed added: “It puts a whole new aspect on everything. Only earlier this year I was complaining bitterly about not being able to contact someone within the social media platforms, so this is now a new extreme where you haven’t a hope in hell in speaking to someone (involved in the platforms).

“I have clients entering into debates with AI, after they have cited sources which have been fabricated or they have put a slant on it.

“I think these people have lost control, it’s getting very serious,” he said. Earlier this year screenshots of ChatGPT, which is largely unregulated, went viral after the bot refused to acknowledge the correct year and claimed 2023 “was in the future”.

Mr Tweed said he is also seeing concern from publishers, not just clients, given his role in also representing several notable newspaper publishing houses.

“I’m hearing from publishers, simply because their newspaper articles are being attributed in results that simply are not there so they’ll now be dragged into this.”

He said his “only hope” is due to the likes of Google maintaining their European, Middle Eastern and African headquarters in Dublin, meaning he believes AI platforms will be subjected to the same laws around mainstream social media and search engine websites.

Representatives for both OpenAI and Google have been contacted for comment.

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Tweed, who made his name as defamation lawyer to the stars, said that Irish courts could become a forum for major litigation over AI misinformation

People are being seriously defamed by answers from artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots, according to Paul Tweed, the leading libel and privacy lawyer.

Tweed said that clients have already begun to contact him “in relation to misinformation and other related issues” from AI.

Tweed said that with so many big tech firms already using Dublin for European headquarters, this raised the possibility that Irish courts could become a forum for major, and complicated, litigation over AI …

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Paul Tweed discusses winning the 2021 Spear's WMA Lawyer of the Year - Reputation award.

peaking at the Law Society of Northern Ireland’s centenary conference in Belfast (23 September), libel lawyer Paul Tweed said that in cases of problematic social-media posts, he has found it very difficult to speak to a counterpart to begin negotiating a settlement.

It’s “virtually impossible” to speak to a human being in tech firms, he said.

This is in sharp contrast to traditional legal practice, he continued, remarking that there are virtually no defamation matters arising nowadays in the mainstream media.

He added that a desire to bring internet giants under control was one thing that united both US Presidents – Trump and Biden.

‘Lots of talk’

“Nothing has happened,” he said, noting that former British PM Boris Johnson also once said that big-tech executives could be subject to criminal liability.

“We have no legislation, but lots of talk about it,” he said.

Taking on massive tech firms in a class action presents an opportunity that younger lawyers should be grasping, in order to display their talents, Tweed commented.

Australia has taken the lead on making social media accountable, Tweed commented, and also has forced tech giants to pay for news content.

Social harm

Australian courts have also confirmed that the online comments sections are the subject of publication liability, he added.

Facebook, Twitter, Google all claim that they are merely a platform and not publishers, despite much social harm being facilitated and disseminated by tech giants, the libel lawyer added.

“All of this presents a massive challenge for the legal profession,” he said, adding that lawyers should be very careful in their use of online tools.

Celebrity doctor Christian Jessen is to pay Arlene Foster £125,000 in damages for a false tweet that she was having an extra-marital affair, a High Court judge has ruled.

Mr Justice McAlinden awarded the record figure to Northern Ireland's outgoing First Minister for the TV star's "grossly defamatory" and completely unfounded rumours.

The scale of payout was necessary to ensure her complete vindication over the baseless allegations, he held.

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Paul Tweed is a lawyer to Hollywood stars, Irish business leaders and even the British royal family.  He is the doyen of defamation for people convinced they have been traduced in the media and when famous foreigners go lawyer shopping to avail of the famously plaintiff-friendly libel laws in Ireland and Britain, many of them call Paul Tweed’s office in Belfast.  But Tweed has also many loyal clients across the business elite in Ireland and the UK and I’m told it’s a dead giveaway when you see his very fancy car parked outside clients’ homes when he does house calls. 

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